Video game publishers have often flirted with the truth at press conventions and shown pre-rendered trailers that don’t accurately represent the final product. Ubisoft’s latest franchise entitled, Watch Dogs was originally conceived as the first “next generation” game at the bleeding edge of technology. A beautiful jaw-dropping trailer including gameplay footage was shown at E3 2012 and enthralled critics who became memorized by the vast open world and impeccable attention to detail throughout.
However, the retail version was shamefully downgraded with reduced lighting effects and horrendous pop in which came from a poor draw distance. Some of the textures even at 2560×1440 look muddy and nothing like the original E3 build. The port was completely unoptimized and required at least a GTX 780/R9 290 using 3GB VRAM to run at ultra settings. Even users with 780Ti SLI setups were complaining about framerate drops to 30 fps during driving sequences. The poor performance levels resulted in a backlash on the Steam reviews page as the ridiculously high recommended requirements didn’t translate to a game of eye watering visual quality.
You could argue that Ubisoft overestimated the specifications of unreleased next generation consoles that were still being finalized. The Xbox One’s GPU is an entry level chip which uses slower DDR3 RAM and is similar to a AMD 7790. In theory, the Xbox One can utilize 32MB of super fast ESRAM but many developers have stated that this will probably be a bottleneck during coding. Despite this, I cannot believe that Ubisoft wouldn’t have had at least a small inkling to what the next generation specifications would be through communications with Microsoft and Sony.
Fortunately, a modder has trundled through the Watch Dogs code and found the E3 graphical enhancements which were deliberately disabled. This is a strong accusation to make but the evidence is clear and I ask myself the question, why would Ubisoft sabotage their own project and not show it off in all its glory? Surely the developers who worked tirelessly on the game and poured their heart into it want to see this creation in 4k with the original high definition assets. Whilst 4k is only an option for a select few at this time, it will certainly become the PC standard and make Watch Dogs a landmark game and add to its longevity. TN panel 4K screens have more than halved in price over the past year and will become affordable fairly quickly.
One theory revolves around the parity clause which has been subtly discussed by Ubisoft during an interview about The Crew racing game. The creative director Julian Gerighty stated the developer Ivory Tower is, “really trying to get parity across all versions, so it’s something that’s important to us not to branch out and not do individual things for individual platforms.” The idea that Ubisoft are intentionally scaling back the PC version to make it on par with technically inferior consoles is dishonest and abhorrent.
If this is the case, PC gamers should make a stand and vote with their wallets by boycotting Ubisoft titles until they reverse this deplorable business decision. If someone spends $3000 on a gaming rig, they should be able to play graphically intensive games which test the limits of high end PC Gaming hardware. Ubisoft hardly have a good relationship with the PC gaming community because of absurd claims about piracy and the widely disliked Uplay service. PC gaming has been flourishing over the last few years and publishers like Ubisoft should be giving the platform their undivided attention.
This whole situation also brings up other issues which need discussion. Firstly, it is ludicrous that an enthusiast modder can fix the mess of a studio which surpassed a turnover over 1 billion Euros in 2013. How can one individual in their spare time do a better job than a team of talented programmers who worked on a project for years?
It’s important to remember that the new consoles adopt a PC friendly x86 architecture that undoubtedly means porting and programming on all platforms should be fairly easy. It’s not a difficult task to make the PC version your priority and then downscale the game to each console’s technical abilities. AAA studios don’t have to deal with obtuse architectures such as the PS3 cell chip and should be making optimized PC games. There is no excuse for lazy porting given this renewed, simpler architecture.
The mod itself features a number of enhancements including (Download the mod here):
- Changes to the default fog values
- Enabled bokeh DOF for the main cameras
- Stuttering Improvements
- E3 2012 Bloom
- Performance Improvements
- Enabled Headlight Shadows
- LoD Changes
- Reflection changes
- Added 3 new cameras to the game (closer, normal, further)
- Rain changes (High quality rain drops, properly reacting to light, etc)
- LensFlares (WIP)
- Lighting changes (TESTING AND WIP)
- Civilians density changes
- More to come in future updates
As you can see that is quite a comprehensive list which transforms the game into a much more enjoyable experience. The mod is in its early stages so it may take some time to find out about performance gains. If the mod dramatically reduces stuttering and increases the frame rate by 15%+, then Ubisoft have a lot to answer for because they could have made the game unoptimized on purpose. I hope this is not the case because it would be a very depressing day for the gaming industry. Thanks goes out to NeoGAF and Guru3D along with Reddit who brought this story to the masses.
Disclaimer – We contacted Ubisoft via e-mail yesterday morning for a statement regarding this story before publishing. That e-mail has gone unanswered. The only message from the Ubisoft camp is a vague posting on Twitter.